Surprise! Corporations squashing economic fairness bill

Corporate HandoutsThis is unacceptable.

Powerful interests are trying to silence those who support HB 4143, a bill that would direct uncollected proceeds of class action lawsuits to Legal Aid of Oregon to provide legal representation to low-income Oregonians, instead of sending the money back to the very corporations found liable in the first place.

When corporate interests are found culpable in a class action lawsuit, they must pay for their wrongdoings. But in Oregon, if members of a class action lawsuit don’t claim their share of the damages, the corporations — that have been found liable — don’t have to pay those damages. This is wrong, and most states know it — Oregon is one of only two states where corporations get to keep those funds.

Oregon Representatives Tobias Read (D-Beaverton) and Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland), co-sponsors of HB 4143, were invited to discuss the proposal at a luncheon for the Lawyers’ Campaign for Equal Justice.  But when they arrived, they found that firms representing big corporate interests had blocked their scheduled remarks.

Willamette Week had the scoop:

Many business groups and the Harang Long law firm, which represents BP and Philip Morris in cases that could be impacted by the legislation, do not like the bill.

That opposition boiled up at today’s lunch: when  Read and Williamson arrived at the Governor Hotel for today’s event, both lawmakers say they were told they were off the agenda.

“We were asked to come and speak—but when we got to the event, we were asked not to speak,” Williamson says. “That was disappointing.”

Mark Wada, a Portland lawyer and member of the Campaign for Equal Justice board confirmed Williamson and Read were invited to speak and then uninvited…

He declined, however to identify which law firms wanted Williamson and Read off today’s agenda.

“I would rather not comment on who was involved in that conversation,” Wada says.

Those trying to block the bill won’t even disclose who they are.

Our Oregon featured information about this bill earlier this week in our Capitol Update.  (Sign up here to get Our Oregon’s weekly Capitol Updates.) We noted that the bill passed the House last week, despite Republican opposition.

The party-line split didn’t make sense to us. Why vote against holding corporations accountable for wrong-doings? Why vote against millions of dollars for legal aid, at no cost to the taxpayer? It sends a wrong message and puts money into the pockets of corporate bad actors, instead of helping those that need it most.

But this latest charade shows what’s really going on. Big corporate interests will use any tactics necessary to derail the good bill.

The bill has passed the House, but must still pass the Senate. The bill is schedule to have a work session next Tuesday (2/25) at 8am.

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